When Miami Cancer Institute opened its Proton Therapy Center  last year, the timing could not have been better for Anayed Perez-Araica and her family.
“Anayed is a 12-year-old girl who has a benign brain tumor called a craniopharyngioma,” explained Matthew Hall, M.D ., a radiation oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute . “While this tumor typically does not spread elsewhere in the body, it is in a very important location in the brain and it can be locally aggressive and so it can cause problems if it is not controlled.”
Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation therapy that uses high-energy protons to treat tumors. Unlike traditional radiation therapy which uses X-rays, proton therapy uses streams of particles called protons to deliver the radiation dose solely to the tumor without injuring the surrounding healthy tissue.
“By using proton therapy,” says Dr. Hall, “we have the capability of stopping this tumor from growing and enabling Anayed to grow up and lead a relatively normal life without the side effects of conventional radiation therapy.”
(Watch now: The Baptist Health South Florida news team followed Anayed through her proton therapy journey. Video by Carol Higgins.)
“At the hospital they told me she had to go to Jacksonville for the (proton) treatment,” recalls Anayed’s mother, Ana Araica. The 30 treatments would have required the family to be away from their Miami home for a month. Then she learned about the opening of the Proton Therapy Center at Miami Cancer Institute. “This was joyous news for all of us because she could be with us every day.”
According to Dr. Hall: “It is beneficial to use proton therapy in patients that have tumors in critical locations, where such a reduction in dose to critical organs can provide a clinically significant benefit for future late effects. This benefit is greatest in young patients, particularly children. The prognosis for Anayed is excellent.”
Anayed is now back at school, studying technology with the goal of becoming an engineer. Her advice to other kids facing cancer treatment? “I’d tell them not to be afraid,” she says. “I always have a smile on me because I don’t think about it. I just live life, seeing what happens.”
As one of the first pediatric proton therapy patients at Miami Cancer Institute, the 7th-grader left a lasting impression on the team of physicians, nurses, radiation therapists and childlife specialists who treated her.
“I have to say that she has been a pleasure to have in our department and everyone is happier when she comes to visit,” said Dr. Hall. “With the opening of our Center, proton therapy is now available to the children of South Florida and it’s our privilege to be able to provide it to them.”